Monday, January 16, 2017

January 16

Genesis 32:13-34:31; Matthew 11:7-30; Psalm 14:1-7; Proverbs 3:19-20

There is so much in today’s passage – Jacob’s reunion with Esau, Dinah’s mistreatment and her brothers’ response, Jacob’s reaction to the brothers’ actions – and that’s just the Old Testament. In Matthew, we have these beautiful verses – “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30). What promise those words of Jesus hold for us!

But today, I actually want to focus on the very first part of the reading, when Jacob wrestles with the “man” until the break of day (Gen. 32:24).

For most of my life, my dad has been a pastor. And during the years when he wasn’t preaching, he was teaching preaching at either Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas or Talbot School of Theology in California. So I’ve heard a lot of my dad’s sermons. I think he’s a wonderful preacher and there are many sermons that I can still remember, even decades later.

Not too long ago, my dad preached on this passage. This was one of those sermons I remember, because I’ve always wondered at this passage. Why does God disguise himself as a man? Why does he wrestle with Jacob? Why does God have to make Jacob lame – can’t he win the wrestling matching fair and square? And why does God ask Jacob his name – doesn’t He know? Then once Jacob says his name, why does God rename him? Why doesn’t God want to give his name to Jacob, who clearly knows who he is? So many questions!

As my dad was preaching through this passage, he shared how his own understanding of this passage has changed as he has grown in his walk with the Lord. When he was younger, he couldn’t make sense of it because he didn’t understand himself or God. But as the years passed, it became clear to him what it means to wrestle with the Lord and truly surrender, as Jacob did. He calls it Jacob’s “magnificent defeat.” Jacob wrestles and wrestles and finally is forced to surrender to God when the Lord cripples him. Jacob faces the question of whether it will be his way or God’s way. And he chooses God’s way. And, in that, there is great blessing.

And what about why God asks what Jacob’s name is?  This is not because he doesn’t know, not because he’s looking for information, but because he wants Jacob to say out loud who he is, to make an admission on his character – he is Jacob, heel-holder, supplanter, con-man. But God removes that label from Jacob and instead tells Jacob, “You will no longer be a manipulator but instead you will be called Israel – he who strives with God and prevails” (see Gen. 32:28).

At some point, each of us must face the true presence of God and decide if it will be his way or our way in this life we live. For some of us, God will have to break us, like he did with Jacob. Others of us might be able to surrender to God more peacefully. But no matter the way we concede and acknowledge that God is in charge of our future, the result is always the same – blessing. As my dad said in his sermon, “Defeated, magnificently defeated, but forever blessed.”  

- Esther McCurry

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